Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Modest Proposal

I know when I first took my job with the diocese that I puzzled some people by making one of my very first pronouncements that I didn't like "Youth Sundays". This was a fine old tradition, got our young people up in front of the congregation, gave them the chance to lead and read and usually preach. And some of those sermons were first rate too! Yet my clear preference was for the demise of Youth Sunday.
When people looked a little deeper they discovered that my objection was that too often such Sundays were little more than window dressing. Once a year we trotted out the trained youth, put them through their paces and sent them back to their corner. That is diametrically opposed to my view of how we should be involving our young people in the life of the church. They should be involved, in every way they are permitted by canon and custom, and to every degree they are capable, all year long. If they are part of the overall congregation and visible all year long then the need for the annual dog and pony show disappears.

So do I really want to eliminate this chance for our young people to take leadership roles at worship? Actually the answer is no. I was involved in an old school Youth Sunday and it was kinda cool.
I just think we need to change the way we do it.

Here's my modest proposal for change:

Let's go to two Sundays a year. Let's call them Recognition Sundays. In the spring we honor our seniors, High School and college, if we have any otherwise it's a regular Youth Sunday idea. We recognize and celebrate our young people and their involvement in our community. One of the best and brightest (by whatever standards the congregation chooses to use) is give the chance to preach. Young people involved in church, school, and other leadership type roles are recognized and appreciated by their community of faith.

In the fall we do a slightly different one. The seniors we recognize are our elder members. Folks who have lived and learned and led us. The preacher this time is one of these elders, given the chance to speak to the congregation. We recognize members who have served long and sometimes in many capacities but often without much fan fare.

The preachers both times are given the chance to speak their hearts to the congregation. To remember, to teach, to challenge. I would hope that they would be both uplifting and unsettling.

Now we recognize both our future and our past and pay respect to both. Now Youth Sunday is no longer a dog and pony show where the youth get trotted out but are now part of a larger celebration by their home congregation. I'll bet there's some way that the two age groups might be able to work together to symbolize all the body of the church.

Hey, youth and seniors working together in church? What a concept!



Reverend Ref + said...

Sounds like a decent enough proposal. How might you get the elder members of the parish to participate with the youth on a regular basis, rather than simply in preparation for these 'events'?

I'm not a youth guy, so I don't have an answer for that. A mentor program? A visitation program? A 'skills' exchange? It seems that if there isn't an ongoing program, then even these two events run the risk of becoming dog and pony shows.

Steve F. said...

You really struck a nerve with the critique of Youth Sundays - because that is exactly how I've experienced them: tokenism in the extreme.The simple fact that you are asking the question - and proposing answers - speaks to your commitment to real discipleship, and not "making it look like we care" when we don't.

I think your answer really is, "I don't want to eliminate chances for young people to take leadership roles in worship - I want to enhance, and regularize, those opportunities."

I remember reading a book, years ago, titled "Young People Learning to Care." It seemed to emphasize that young men and women (especially teens) care more when they see that their caring means something - that what they think, feel, and experience has value to those older and more mature. That's a worthy goal to pursue!